Virtually every client I work with wants (and needs) to be highly productive. Being highly productive not only enables us to get our work done more effectively, but it reduces stress and sets a good example for our team.
Although many executives attempt greater productivity through prioritized lists and calendar management, I don’t know anyone who’s actually been able to achieve high productivity on a consistent basis using these strategies. It’s not that the strategies don’t work. They do. But without another critical component in place, they’re only of limited usefulness.
The missing component for high productivity is energy management. (It’s a concept explained nicely in the book, “The Power of Full Engagement” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.) There are four aspects to energy – physical, emotional, mental, and inspirational. (Loehr and Schwartz refer to the fourth one as spiritual.)
Our physical energy affects our ability to push forward. It helps our drive and our self-discipline. If you’ve ever had a “mid-afternoon crash”, then you’ve experienced the impact a low physical reserve can have on productivity.
Our emotional energy impacts our ability to deal with stress, to communicate well, to think clearly, and to interact with others effectively. It’s not uncommon to become short with people when we’re feeling stressed or tense, both of which are caused by a low emotional reserve.
Our mental energy affects our ability to think clearly, to concentrate and focus, to solve problems, and to be creative. Clearly, poor mental acuity hampers productivity.
And our inspirational energy is the fuel that moves us to action. It is our passion, purpose, and inspiration that spark self-discipline, extra effort, and new direction. In the absence of inspiration, we end up just going through the motions. Low inspirational energy saps the productive juices right out of us.
Maintaining our energy reserves is critical if we’re to be highly productive on a consistent basis. Our energy reserves are like a four-legged stool. We’re all familiar with the analogy of a three-legged stool. Without all three legs the stool is useless. But a four-legged stool can still be used even if one of the legs is missing by exerting a bit of effort and balance. It’s not especially comfortable and requires an ongoing expenditure of energy to maintain, but it is functional. The same goes for our four energy reserves. We can function even if one or more of our reserves is depleted, but it’s inefficient, draining, and negatively impacts our productivity.
Therefore, it’s essential to develop habits that replenish our energy reserves. Here are three keys to accomplishing this. They’re somewhat counter-intuitive and often overlooked, but don’t be fooled by their simplicity. For years they’ve allowed me accomplish about 50% more than most people do.
High Productivity Strategy #1: Take Breaks
This is the most counter-intuitive of the three strategies and most people I know struggle with it. After all, how can you become more productive by not working? Here’s why it works.
Most of us have the capacity to stay focused, concentrate well and work hard for about 2-2.5 hours. After that, our focus, accuracy and creativity tend to drop. Ever notice that first thing in the morning you’re able to work quickly, efficiently, and accurately? Each time you take a 20-30 minute break and recharge yourself, you’re able to return to work in the same state you were first thing in the morning. The secret to maximizing the impact of your breaks is what you do during them. This leads to our second strategy for high productivity.
High Productivity Strategy #2: Eat Strategically
Most people think about what to eat in terms of weight loss or general health, but nutrition also serves another important purpose. Here’s why it matters.
What we eat and when we eat control our blood sugar levels. When our blood sugar drops too low, our productivity, focus, and creativity suffer. Ever experience a mid-afternoon “crash”? It’s due to a drop in blood sugar. Eating strategically means eating protein, fat, and some carbohydrate during your breaks. This mix controls the pace at which nutrition is absorbed, stabilizes your blood sugar level, and provides essential nutrients to your brain and your muscles.
High Productivity Strategy #3: Get Restful Sleep
Getting a sufficient number of hours of restful sleep allows your body to repair itself and your mind to process ideas and problems. Insufficient sleep causes lack of mental sharpness, anxiety, and poor emotional control.
In order to get a restful night’s sleep, avoid caffeine late in the day and avoid eating a heavy, fat-laden, carbohydrate-laden meal late in the evening. Caffeine will keep you from falling asleep quickly and eating a late, heavy meal will cause your body to work hard digesting while you sleep instead of attending to the other tasks necessary for recharging and revitalization.
Managing your energy reserves combined with prioritization of tasks will make you a productivity superstar. Get in the habit of taking breaks every couple of hours, eat strategically throughout the day, and adopt a lifestyle that will allow you to get restful sleep.